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The lure of the foreign stage: Italian art and artistry serving the French and European spectacle.

Project description

The role of spectacle in the 18th century transformations

Culture played a key role in the wave of transformation that swept over Europe (France in particular) between 1780 and 1820. While researchers have studied the role of musicians and visual artists, the world of spectacle, and more precisely of artists and designers, remains unexplored. The EU-funded SPECTACLE project will conduct a multidisciplinary study on the role of spectacle in the radical transformation of European politics, through the investigation of diverse Italian artists such as fireworks technicians, designers and circus performers. SPECTACLE will research the worlds of stage creation and popular festivals. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the role of spectacle in the European 18th century culture.


The proposed research is a multidisciplinary investigation on the role of spectacle during the radical transformation of European politics and culture in the decades between 1780 and 1820. Its principal aim is to define the cultural meaning of ‘spectacle’ and ‘spectacularity’ in eighteenth-century France. This will be achieved via an exploration of key contributions of Italian artists from different backgrounds and expertise (the designer Ignazio Degotti, the fireworks technicians in the Ruggieri family, and the circus performer Antonio Franconi and his family) to French and a wider European spectacle broadly conceived (e.g. theatre settings, public and private performances, propaganda events). Historians have examined cultural phenomena including theatre, visual arts, music, and popular manifestations as part of a more refined understanding of the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary process. However, the world of stage creation and popular festivals was inherently contingent, transient, and ephemeral. Due to this, artists and designers have not been given the same critical attention paid to musicians, dramatists, or visual artists. My research will cover this gap of knowledge in a growing body of scholarship which is only now beginning to address historical theatre production. Rather than reducing the purveyors of stage design to the ‘background’ of theatre and cultural history in their own ‘micro history,’ the novelty of my approach comes from integrating décor into cultural histories of seeing, experiencing, and remaking the world. By chronologically and biographically assembling visual and historical archival sources (sketches, wills, letters, contracts, private networks) scattered in diverse cultural institutions, the study will bring to the foreground material aspects of the spectacle-creative process and illuminate the interweaving lives of these artists, finally affording a deeper understanding of ‘spectacularity’ in European eighteenth-century culture.


Net EU contribution
€ 269 002,56
30123 Venezia

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Nord-Est Veneto Venezia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 269 002,56

Partners (1)